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An Epic Journey from Comic Books to KALW Audio Academy

Posted by on Feb 19, 2019 in ACE Learning Center, ACE School Report, Continuing Education | 0 comments

By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Listener Supported Public Radio and Porfirio Rangel, Audio Academy Fellow ‘19

One of the great pleasures I have in working with KALW‘s Audio Academy is getting to know people with all kinds of backgrounds and interests. And with today’s blog post, I have the pleasure of introducing you to one of our fellows: Porfirio Rangel. Here are some of his thoughts about his experience with us.

Porfirio Rangel on his first day at Audio Academy.

I first heard of the Audio Academy from a producer I worked with while interning at KGO Radio. Before I left, he asked what kind of career I wanted. I said I wanted to work in radio, to do news stories, tell people about events going on in their area, & do audio editing. He told me to look no further than KALW’s Audio Academy program. I checked it out and turns out he was right.

I applied for it in the early part of 2017 and didn’t get accepted. That was a huge blow for me. At the time, I was already thinking of moving from San Francisco, and not getting in gave me more of a reason to leave. I told myself I would take the rest of the year before I made up my mind. Nothing came up. But come 2018, Ben Trefny emailed me to reapply for the Audio Academy. At first I had my reservations, because I could not take rejection twice. But I had nothing to lose and decided to give it another go. I made a demo, and editing audio again brought back the feeling that I love doing it. That passion must’ve showed because this time I got accepted! It’s something I’ve had to learn working in radio: there’s going to be so much rejection, but it only takes that one “Yes” that turns it all around.

So, I’m in. What now? I went to the station on the first day of orientation with so much excitement about meeting the other members, the reporters, & seeing all that audio equipment again. As I got to know the other fellows, I became easily intimidated. I am the youngest of the group and probably the one with the least experience. You have someone who works with Google, another who has done projects for National Geographic, and a journalist who has been writing for years. Who am I? I’m the one who reads comics, attends drag shows, & scours social media to check out the next outfit Adam Lambert is wearing. How am I even on the same level as all the other fellows? Again, that self-doubt that came into play last year somehow entered my life once again. But I’m already in. This is different. I have to step it up and “sashay away” all that insecurity, because it’s not cute.

Being at KALW has been a rewarding experience. There are a lot of tasks that we have to get done in and out of the newsroom. But it’s so hard to complain about them if I love doing it. It’s fun looking for news stories to add to the morning news digest, writing up a newscast for stories that are trending that day, or finding people to interview for a story. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s something I can be happy that I’m getting done. Plus the feeling of completing the assignments is like how Spider-Man feels whenever he defeats the Green Goblin: tired & exhausted but satisfied.

Now, it’s been hard to find my voice and get a story done, but my talented-brilliant-incredible-amazing-show-stopping mentor, Eli Wirtschafter, has shown me the ways of the force. Every week, we fellows meet up with our mentors to ask for help, vent, seek advice, or get a shoulder to cry on. I know I can always rely on Eli for any help in & out of the station. He’s so willing to basically put his work on hold for a bit to check up on me and just be there. One of the first things he asked me when we first met was: What are my interests? I told him I’m a pop culture person. It took a while to figure out how I can use that to make a piece, but eventually he introduced me to this segment called Bay Area Beats. It’s a profile segment where we ask Bay Area artists about their work, influences, and connection to the Bay Area. Perfect!

Porfirio wins the newsroom award after voicing his first story.
Credit: Ben Trefny

Working on my first piece was nothing but unbelievable. I got to interview Kat Robichaud, a singer I had been a fan of for years, and it was like a dream come true. I was nervous because this was going to be my first time interviewing someone. I was fangirling on the inside, but, ultimately, I just wanted to make my first piece good. The interview went well. The next step was mixing. That was so much fun! It was long & tedious, but it was something I was very proud of. I brought it to my editor, Gabe Grabin, to listen to and make changes if necessary. To my surprise, he really liked it and thought it was mixed very well for a first draft. Hearing that, honestly, was the best feeling in the world. At that point, any self-doubt I had about my skills or whether I belonged in the Audio Academy was completely washed away. Now, I can happily say that it’s going to air, on the actual radio, very soon!

This is only the beginning. I’m in the process of getting another Bay Area Beats done and trying to get a news feature written up. Being on this journey in the Audio Academy can only be explained as blessed. I am grateful. Now, as a drag queen once said, “You better work.”

Walking the Growing Community with Oakland International High School

Posted by on Feb 18, 2019 in ACE Learning Center, ACE School Report, Continuing Education | 0 comments

By Martha Sessums, President, ACE

I recently attended one of the yearly Oakland International High School (OIHS) Community Walks and enjoyed seeing the growth of the school, the focus on success by the high schoolers and the enthusiasm of the parents learning English at the ACE Parent Center. While ACE is only a part of what the school does, OIHS thinks big about providing quality education for recently arrived immigrants, and that includes their families.

From a start of 56 students when OIHS started in 2007, there are now over 400. They reflect today’s complexity of immigration with 25% being unaccompanied minors, 44% having a gap of two years without attending school and 100% English learners. There are more than 30 languages spoken in the school.

ACE Learning Center at OIHS.

The ACE Learning Center plays a part of English language learning in the community by instructing parents. Trish Malanyaon was the teacher I observed in the class and she led a group of parents in understanding how to talk about “places.” Looking at a picture, these adult students had to identify places like community centers, supermarkets and schools and discuss how places were correctly talked about, other names for them and how they were used.

Student Hanna often answered the questions first. But the lesson was also about the use of articles before nouns. The community center. The supermarket. The school. What comes naturally for English speakers didn’t come as naturally for Hanna and the other students. Many languages don’t use articles, so this was new.

I get it. I’m a student of the French language. While French uses articles, the nouns are masculine or feminine, and the articles must r, Learning Labeflect that. Le centre sociocultural (masculine.) Le supermarché (masculine.) L’école (feminine.) It’s not easy.

Ms. Trish was a firm yet delightful teacher who repeated the lessons in a fun, friendly way. The parent students were learning.

Afghan/Pakistan students answer questions during their Community Walk presentation.

There were four student-led presentations available, and I attended the Afghan/Pakistan group. A welcome lunch of sweet rice, a cheesy eggplant casserole and naan bread was served as five 12th grade girls taught us about their countries and how to spell our names in Pashto, an Afghäni language. Written from right to left, I was once again reminded how hard it is to learn a language that is totally different in structure and spelling. And I thought learning algebra was hard.

But Sailaja Suresh, one of the founding administrators at OIHS and now Director of its Learning Lab, believes there is a language and construct integration in learning.

“I was an algebra teacher,” she said. “Learning language and algebra together made students batter at math and language.”

The Community Walk group asked the students some of their favorite things and I was reminded that young learners are the same around the world. Several of the girls loved to play soccer, while others preferred reading. Favorite books ranged from Romeo and Juliet (both the graphic novel version and original Shakespeare) to Hunger Games. They also loved texting friends and watching movies. They were regular teens.

My Community Walk Day was a great blend of visiting the ACE Learning Center and meeting the Afghan and Pakistan students. Education comes in all forms and enthusiasms, and OIHS is using the best practices they have developed to drive learning and excellence. ACE is honored to be a part of the team.

In fact, it’s khob. That’s “cool” in Pashto.

It would really be khob if I could figure out x in the equation 5(- 3x – 2) – (x – 3) = -4(4x + 5) = 13.

“Catch ya on the Airwaves!” – KALW Provides Caring and Attentive Learning in Action

Posted by on Feb 4, 2019 in ACE Learning Center, ACE School Report, Continuing Education | 0 comments

By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Listener Supported Public Radio and Maggie McKay, Audio Academy Fellow

I recently traveled around the Bay Area, dropping in on some of our out-of-office training programs.

Uncuffed producer Spoon Jackson works with instructor Jessica Placzek while Brian Thames works with Eli Wirtschafter in the background – Credit: Peter Merts

First, on Friday, I joined KALW‘s transportation reporter, Eli Wirtschafter, at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, where he trains incarcerated men to produce audio stories that air on our station under the title Uncuffed. The program is situated in the media lab in the education department, where KALW has set up a makeshift recording studio and three editing stations. We worked with six guys, talking about how the program is evolving (and may end up on more stations), listening to a story our justice reporter made about a reunion of released citizens and prison guards on Alcatraz, and then editing pieces. The energy is really amazing, the students are extremely engaged, and it’s really a pleasure to work with the men and hear their stories.

Ryan Nicole Peters works with students in the Black Joy writing program as part of Sights & Sounds of East Oakland.

Then, on Saturday, I went to Chapter 510 & the Dept. of Make Believe, where two members of our Sights & Sounds of East Oakland team, Jeneé Darden and Ryan Nicole Peters, led a workshop on public speaking and performance with a student writing group called Black Joy. Ryan and Jeneé are both accomplished performers and terrific teachers, and the students were rapt. Again, I felt very privileged to have the chance to see really caring and attentive learning in action, and I had the chance to enjoy seeing and hearing the students as they each took a turn on stage, performing their own works. They’ll be on a much bigger stage on February 24, when they take part in the Black Joy Parade in Oakland.

And now, as we like to do, we’re going to hand the mic over to one of the people learning from us. Here’s current Audio Academy fellow Maggie McKay:

Maggie’s actual journal entry before she entered the Audio Academy – Credit: Maggie McKay

I learned about the Audio Academy a couple of years ago. I had reached out to the station to see about intern or volunteer opportunities, and they told me about the program. Here’s what I wrote in my journal: “I got an email back from KALW telling me that there’s a radio producing course (tuition free!) that they’re hosting starting in September. There’s another one in spring. Awesome. I watched the promos for it on their website and I was just glowing. My eyes were like “WOW” and I was on the edge of my seat, clutching my heart. So excited to find that it exists.”

You see, KALW has been “my station” for nearly 10 years. When I first moved to San Francisco in 2009, I quickly identified where all of the NPR affiliates were on the dial and programmed the pre-sets on my kitchen radio accordingly. KALW was in spot #1. And, aside from Saturdays, I rarely changed the dial (sorry bluegrass buddies!). KALW reverberated with me in a way that the other stations did not. Because I could feel that they were smaller. Scrappier. More local. More personal. More willing to discuss radical ideas because they weren’t tied to bigger interests. As I listened, I found a growing love for the format of audio storytelling. I also grew curious about the way radio was made. I started noticing when a sigh was meaningful, or when someone had made an obvious, awkward edit. Thus began my radio-making dreams.

Audio Academy fellow Maggie McKay – Credit: Ben Trefny

Fast forward to this year, when I was accepted into the Audio Academy. Upon arrival, I felt an immediate YES. All of the ethics and soul of the station that I had heard for years, that had inspired my dreams, they were all true! The smallness, the scrappiness, the local focus, the personal authenticity of each piece, the freedom to explore ideas … these qualities were all transmitted through the air waves accurately! I felt an embrace of hope and a sigh of relief that I had found the help — the leg up that I need on this journey.

Then came the challenges. The fear of failure. The self-doubt. Really? Can I actually call a source and describe myself as “a reporter at KALW Public Radio?” My mentor, Angela Johnston, said, “That’s just imposter syndrome!”

We’re now at the halfway point in the program. There’s less instruction and more just doing the damn thing. Winter break invited all sorts of funny feelings. Guilt because I wasn’t working on audio while out of town. Questions about identity. What am I doing here? Am I ever going to be good enough to support myself in this field? We talk about these things in our seminars, sharing our insecurities with each other.

Turns out morphing from one thing to another is difficult and painful at times! Following your dreams requires sacrifice and facing your fears. In the quietness after the holiday frenzy, I can hear a little voice inside of me asking, “Are you ready to embody your dreams, girl?”

Yes. I am! And only because I have support. The support that Audio Academy provides is real and tangible. It’s a pep talk from my mentor, a moment of vulnerability shared with another AA fellow, or a practical editorial suggestion from KALW’s incredibly talented team of reporters. I am so lucky to be here! And I’m ready to get back to work. Catch ya on the airwaves!